It’s not for nothing that they call the town of Rotorua Rotovegas. This little town in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand offers an amazing choice of extreme sports activities. Already as we approached the town I tried out the exotic activity of zorbing. Zorbing is sliding downhill inside a giant plastic sphere. There are two main varieties: either the ball is filled with water or it’s dry. In the dry option you are secured to the insides of the ball so you rotate as the ball rolls. In the wet option you basically swim inside the sliding ball. I opted for the wet option and the zigzag trek. And it was quite a euphoric slide inside the rolling ball.
Rotorua area is one of the most volcanically active in all of New Zealand (and that says something!) In the 19th century there was a huge eruption here which destroyed the previous incarnation of Rotorua town as well as the famous Pink and White terraces, a geological formation with hot water pools which was the touristic playground of rich visitors from Europe of the time. Rotorua itself is located in a giant volcanic crater, in fact lake Rotorua is at its centre. I visited the Rotorua museum. From the roof of the museum you can just make out the walls of the crater that surround the area from every side.
The sulfur sources that feed the Polynesian spa – another Rotorua attraction – can also be seen from the roof of the museum.
I stopped in Rotorua for a couple of days as I wanted to try out the mountain biking in the Redwoods, or Wakarewarewa forest, considered the best in New Zealand. Next morning therefore I rented a mountain bike and headed down to the Redwoods, about 5 km from Rotorua centre. There is a devoted bike track that leads down there, crossing the sulfur fields first:
The smoke is rising from underground and the stench of rotten eggs attacks your nostrils:
The instructor in the bike shop advised me to take three treks in Wakarewarewa: Tahi Track (difficulty level 2), Creek Track (level 3) and Dipper Track (level 2). I learnt that altogether there are 6 levels of difficulty and Wakarewarewa offers tracks of all 6 levels. My word is that level 3 is quite enough, the descents on this track were at times so steep, narrow and dangerous due to many protruding roots and branches, that I had trouble even imagining level 6!
The start of one of the tracks – afterwards I had no way to make photos as all my attention belonged to the track itself!
My favourite though was Dipper Track – it consists of little hills on which you keep jumping up in the air, which is very thrilling but physically easy.
Wakarewarewa forest is very pretty. One of the gentler descents:
On arrival back to Rotorua I returned the bike and went for a walk on the lakeside:
Discovered some black swans swimming in it (and of course could not resist thinking of Nassim Nicholas Taleb!)
Further on the lakeside I walked into the maori village of Ohinemoto.
It is a living village not particularly modified to suit tourists’ taste. It is quite unusual in that it is built right over volcanic terrain. In many corners of the village the smoke is rising straight from the holes in the ground. I heard a story about a woman in Rotorua who left her house, looked back and saw the house slide right under the ground in front of her very eyes. I thought it was a fairytale but in Ohinemoto it is very easy to imagine something like that.
Maori community house on the main square of Ohinemoto:
An Anglican church is standing right in front of it:
A public town park of Kuarai is located not far from Ohinemoto. It is full of geothermal activity.
In the park you can find a small pool where you can soak your feet in volcanic water. This is thankfully not it though:
That evening in Rotorua I visited a hanga, a Maori feast in the cultural village of Tamaki. The hanga kicks off with a Maori ritual where the tribe representatives welcome the guests and symbolically question their peaceful intentions. We await the arrival of the tribesmen:
With terrible shouts and dances they appear:
I must say that a Maori battle dance has an amazing energy that is sure to impress you. The whole point of this theatrical performance of course used to be to frighten the opponent, which could very well affect the outcome of battle in the old days. The maori have reached an incredible level of proficiency in the art of opponent frightening. It is no surprise that the New Zealand rugby team – the world champion – uses the ritual battle dance as a pre-match ritual.
The Maori chief then places a tree branch on the ground as a sign of peace and the visiting chief then picks it up as a sign of peaceful intentions. Several “chiefs” had been pre-selected from among the guests to perform this function in this hanga. Later the Maori and guest chiefs touch each other in the Maori greeting – rubbing the noses and the foreheads.
Our “chiefs” are taught the Maori battle dance.
Note the dutifully protruding tongues!
Only men can be the chiefs dancing the battle dance. The women had the option to learn another traditional art – the poi dance. The essence of the dance is the manipulation of a special ball, called poi, made from New Zealand flax. Nowadays juggling the poi has become so popular that a whole subculture has been born on the basis of the traditional art.
The Tamaki cultural village offered a number of other expositions devoted to the traditional arts and games. I found the traditional tattoo art most interesting. The Maori to this day are often covered in tattoos head to toes. It turned out that the tattoos have elaborate meanings, for example the tattoos on the forearms are genealogical maps where each portion of the tattoo corresponds to a particular ancestor.
A traditional game is demonstrated on this photo:
A traditional way of preparing food – in an underground oven.
The final performance – and again a huge energy release!